Ed Miliband: tough on parasites

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, the Labour leader talks about reforming capitalism - and practises a little pest control.

Today's Daily Telegraph carries an interview with Ed Miliband, written by former editor Charles Moore. In it, the Labour leader expands on one of the themes he explored in the New Statesman last week: his plan to "remake capitalism".

He tells Moore:

'I am now much clearer than I was two years ago about the depth of change we need. . . Tony and Gordon were products of their historical circumstances.’ They had to break with the past, but in the process, New Labour became too credulous about business: 'The consensus around regulation ['light touch’] turned out to be really problematic.’ The project became 'too easy and accepting’ about globalisation: 'It’s just not true that all the top CEOs will leave the country unless we pay them whatever they demand’.

The interview picks up on some concrete policy proposals: there is a "strong case" for making takeovers more difficult, and ordinary employees should be represented on the committees which decide executive pay. Miliband also believes that there are too few banks and that the "big six" energy companies have a stranglehold on supply. He adds that wealth is created by "the private sector working with the government. We shouldn't be ashamed of wanting an industrial policy".

Miliband is careful to reassure Telegraph readers that a top 50% tax rate is the limit for him and that it's fine to be rich "if you make it the hard way".

He also manages to swat a mosquito which has settled on Charles Moore's shoulder:

With a commanding show of decision, Mr Miliband squashes it, spattering its remarkably copious blood over my light grey suit. So that’s how he deals with capitalist parasites.

Perhaps he's been taking tips from Barack Obama:

 

Ed Miliband: "It's just not true that CEOs will leave unless we pay them whatever they demand". Photo: Getty

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

How the Conservatives lost the argument over austerity

After repeatedly missing their deficit targets, the Tories can no longer present spending cuts as essential.

“The age of irresponsibility is giving way to the age of austerity,” declared David Cameron at the Conservatives' 2009 spring conference. Fear of spending cuts helped deny his party a majority a year later, but by 2015 the Tories claimed vindication. By framing austerity as unavoidable, they had trapped Labour in a political no man's land. Though voters did not relish cuts, polling consistently showed that they regarded them as necessary.

But only two years later, it is the Conservatives who appear trapped. An austerity-weary electorate has deprived them of their majority and the argument for fiscal restraint is growing weaker by the day. If cuts are the supposed rule, then the £1bn gifted to the Democratic Unionist Party is the most glaring exception. Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, sought to justify this largesse as "investment" into "the infrastructure of Northern Ireland" from "which everybody will benefit" – a classic Keynesian argument. But this did not, he hastened to add, mean the end of austerity: "Austerity is never over until we clear the deficit."

Britain's deficit (which peaked at £153bn in 2009-10) was the original and pre-eminent justification for cuts. Unless borrowing was largely eliminated by 2015, George Osborne warned, Britain's public finances would become unsustainable. But as time has passed, this argument has become progressively weaker. The UK has cumulatively borrowed £200bn more than promised by Osborne, yet apocalypse has been averted. With its low borrowing costs, an independent currency and a lender of last resort (the Bank of England), the UK is able to tolerate consistent deficits (borrowing stood at £46.6bn in 2016-17).

In defiance of all this, Osborne vowed to achieve a budget surplus by 2019-20 (a goal achieved by the UK in just 12 years since 1948). The Tories made the target in the knowledge that promised tax cuts and spending increases would make it almost impossible to attain – but it was a political weapon with which to wound Labour.

Brexit, however, forced the Conservatives to disarm. Mindful of the economic instability to come, Philip Hammond postponed the surplus target to 2025 (15 years after Osborne's original goal). Britain's past and future borrowing levels mean the deficit has lost its political potency.

In these circumstances, it is unsurprising that voters are increasingly inclined to look for full-scale alternatives. Labour has remade itself as an unambiguously anti-austerity party and Britain's public realm is frayed from seven years of cuts: overburdened schools and hospitals, dilapidated infrastructure, potholed roads, uncollected bins.

Through a shift in rhetoric, Theresa May acknowledged voters' weariness with austerity but her policies did not match. Though the pace of cuts was slowed, signature measures such as the public sector pay cap and the freeze in working-age benefits endured. May's cold insistence to an underpaid nurse that there was no "magic money tree" exemplified the Tories' predicament.

In his recent Mansion House speech, Philip Hammond conceded that voters were impatient "after seven years of hard slog” but vowed to "make anew the case" for austerity. But other Tories believe they need to stop fighting a losing battle. The Conservatives' historic strength has been their adaptability. Depending on circumstance, they have been Europhile and Eurosceptic, statist and laissez-faire, isolationist and interventionist. If the Tories are to retain power, yet another metamorphosis may be needed: from austerity to stimulus.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

0800 7318496